The World So Far: The world is flat. On one side of disc is the exhaustively explored and urbanized home of humans, where cities, countries and nations vie for too little land to support their expanding populations. On the other side of the disc is an uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty.
An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinctly 15th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their world and come to colonize the world below. Some have come to seek asylum, refuge or more converts to their maligned faith. Some have been exiled over, punished for crimes committed in the world above. Still, others come over to set down stakes in a new world, to exploit the natural resources and expand their conquest.
The new world's inhabitants, however, are four powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might. With cultures far older and far more intricate than those of the human colonists, the undersea kingdoms are as unprepared for this sudden clash of cultures as the unawares humans are.
First conclusion about the Brethren that seems foregone that didn't occur to me last week: it's specifically the religion of the Exodus that executes their criminals by sending them over the edge of the world. In my brain, initially, I'd imagined that it was simply the standardized execution method for the Overworld, right, possibly favored by one or both of the Nations? On further reflection, it's much more interesting to have been a means to execute, say, blasphemers, iconoclasts or, frankly, anyone who violated whatever the Exodus holds dear.
Especially when those same people who exiled them start coming over the edge of the world on their own.
(Note: This does raise some interesting theology about the Exodus, what they believe in, how their religion has changed over the years, etc., which will get into on their spotlight.)
That out of the way, today, we're talking about the Brethren's culture. We talked history last week, time to talk culture this week.
First things first, we can probably safely assume that, during the castaway period, there was little unified culture amongst the "Brethren", who certainly hadn't adopted that name until much later. No, what we're talking about today is the Brethren proper – the culture that arose following the emergence of both Nations to the Underworld and how, precisely, a "pirateocracy" would take shape.
It's conceivable that they'd refuse any centralized leadership, particularly since they'd have the least established infrastructure on this side of the world. I don't imagine a Pirate King or anything like that. They seem scrappier, less likely to kowtow to authority or rules or any such.
With a name like the Brethren, it makes me think they value equality above anything else. In their eyes, any man cast over the side was their brother – any outlaw, any reject or criminal – could find fellowship among the Brethren. I like that – kinda a reverse Night's Watch. Rather than being sent off to take the black, people here could conceivably run away and join the Brethren, who would accept anyone, no matter what their crime, as long as they foreswore their previous life.
(Likely wouldn't take too long for the Nations to start hanging as opposed to exiling their criminals.)
The idea of forsaking their old lives, even their identity, is kinda interesting. Could be a handy way to achieve the classic criminal nickname I love so much – when you join the Brethren, you're rebranded, your old life is abandoned. Maybe even all your earthly attachments are severed – your marriage, your children, your parents – are all forsaken. Joining the Brethren is effectively a death sentence for the person you used to be. You'd be expected to take a Brethren spouse, raise Brethren children.
I mean, if you wanted. That seems key too – they're all about freedom. There's no faster way to inequality than rules, restrictions and who they apply to. GRRM's wildlings seem a good parallel – fiercely independent, almost impossible to control, with equality and chaos being their primary virtues. Unlike the wildlings, however, I imagine they're somewhat more idealistic, even for a robber culture – once you join the Brethren, you uphold the Brethren values, the Brethren way or life or you're dealt with. Whatever that might mean to them.
A democracy, possibly the only one on the Underworld, would make historical sense. A true democracy, however, with all its logistical nightmare, is kinda more interesting than the republic we have. I could see a massive Congress or something, right, where every single Brethren is granted a vote. It could takes weeks and be a huge hassle, involving all the Brethren ships who can be bothered to attend to attend, before they can agree on anything.
(Side Point: This is sorta beside the point, but I like the idea that assiduous records are kept as to who attended and who didn't. Anyone who didn't vote or wasn't present is considered, in the rare event of a legal matter, exempt. I love taking their fierce independence to absurd extremes.)
They would seem to be very autonomous, then, sailing around in their own ships and maybe small fleets, occasionally convening in trading towns where they could sell their pirated goods. There are probably Brethren friendly ports and hidden Brethren fortresses, but I don't imagine they elect leaders to those places – they're just occupied and ruled by whomever is currently present. Brethren goods being a taboo but essential part of the Underworld economy seems interesting to me – I could see the Nations putting a moratorium on any independent citizen caught with Brethren goods, but both accepting weapons and goods sold to them by Brethren who stole them from their enemy.
Every once in a great while, I could see the Brethen summoning a great moot, or thing, or whichever term you'd like to use, where every single Brethren ship is summoned to a certain port and a massive matter is voted on. I would also imagine that every decision on a Brethren ship would be carried out democratically as well. I suppose they'd need a captain. Hm.
The classic "mutiny is acceptable if the public will turns against the captain" is probably fine. I like the idea of mutiny taking the opposite position than it does in Bad Space – it's considered the sacred duty of the crew to throw overboard any captain who becomes too tyrannical. I imagine it's a pretty common occurrence. Serving as a Brethren captain would appear to be unhappy, short experience.
(It occurs to me, I may need a role in Brethren society for the tiebreaker. That seems like a position of incredible power.)
They need some physical traits, some identifying colors and sigils. Maybe let's stick with colors for now, since those are pretty simple? Though I reserve the right to reform the shit out of this, but I think I'm gonna go with the Dead Rabbits/Vox Populi revolutionary red for the Brethren. Which, you know, seems like a pretty good pitch to hit. (Imagine pirate sails painted that way.) Maybe red is a sacrilegious color to the Exodus? That I will ponder.
Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Power to the People!
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